If you’ve played OD&D, or Swords & Wizardry, or any of the other old school games out there, you have encountered this before, regarding monster stats: monsters have hit dice (HD); this determines how many hit they can take, on average. Each hit die is 1d6, and each damage die is also 1d6. In later games, the picture is not that simple anymore. In B/X we already notice that many fighters have a strength bonus, but monsters also use 1d8 for hit dice. For the purpose of this blog post, I don’t care about the details.
I care about this relationship: every extra HD allows a monster to survive one more hit; every extra HD also allows a monster to hit more easily; extra HD also allow a monster to better resist spells.
What does it mean to survive more hits? It means that fights take longer, or that monsters can take on more enemies. It’s not that simple because the monster is also better at hitting the opposition. Without that twist, it’d be boring: four characters hit a monster with 4 HD and it’s dead; four characters hit monster with 8 HD and it takes two rounds to kill. The difference is that the 8 HD monster probably deals more damage to the characters. Most likely it also has special abilities that make it even more dangerous. That’s why I think save or die effects are important.
The net effect is hard to predict and that’s probably what makes the game interesting.
I’m trying to apply the same kind of analysis to Just Halberds.
Characters fight monsters by rolling opposed 2d6 checks. Monsters have hits (like HD in D&D) that allow them to survive longer but more hits don’t increase their ability to deal damage. So simply adding more hits just makes fights take longer and that’s boring, unless something interesting is going to happen. That means, the monster needs more special abilities to challenge the players.
Monsters have a bonus to their roll which doesn’t just determine the likelihood of hitting a character: the margin also determines the damage dealt, and winning the opposed roll also means that the monster keeps the initiative, allowing it to use special abilities that the players cannot easily defend against.
Let’s take an example monster from the latest copy of Just Halberds:
- medusas ♡♡♡♡, +2 with their soft voice, +3 with their petrifying snake hair
So, if the party has a strong fighter who attacks with a +3 and gets the initiative, I’d say that the medusa has to roll +0 against his terrible blows. If the medusa has the initiative, however, and the fighter hasn’t prepared for her snake hair with a mirror, then the medusa gets to attack with a +3 and the fighter has to roll +0 against her petrifying hair.
It’s interesting to compare OD&D and Just Halberds when it comes to the effect of increasing the important stat.
My problem, for the moment, is how to model really dangerous opponents. How strong is Lawin the dragon hunter and why is he interested in hiring the party to go and slay the red dragon Burning Bone of the Mountain? Hex Describe says:
- The dragon hunter fighter Lawin (level 9) is trying to hire two score desperate peasants to go and slay Burning Bone of the Mountain (2209). “I’ll be fair: half of the treasure found for me, half to be shared amongst the other survivors.” A potion of fire resistance (deep alizarin crimson, 1h). A map of the dungeon The Deepest Prison (2209). A black plate armour of Nergal +3, inscribed with runes of fire spelling doom and despair.
- Boss Monster: the red dragon Burning Bone of the Mountain (HD 10 AC -1 1d8/1d8/4d8 F10 MV 24 ML 10 XP 1000; fire (as much as the dragon has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half))
I feel like the fighter is about the same level as the dragon, has about as many hit-points, can hit as easily, but only has one attack where as the dragon has three, not counting its breath weapon. The fighter, however, has a potion to protect against the breath weapon, so perhaps he just needs henchmen to soak all that brutal damage while he kills the dragon. Works for me.
But how do we create a similar dynamic using Just Halberds? Let’s check what my notes say:
- heroes ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +2, with heavy armour and a shield
- dragons ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their dragon breath
As it is, the dragon slayer is going to avoid facing the dragon’s breath due to the potion, so I’m going to assume that whatever else the dragon has, it’s going to be less powerful: he’s going to fight with +2. That means that hero and dragon are on equal footing, more or less. The dragon can simply take more damage.
I think this means that dragons need a much bigger bonus. Who’s going to be on equal footing with a dragon? A hero being a fighter (+1), a sword-fighter (+1), with a magic weapon (+1), knowing two or three extra tricks (+3) that I haven’t detailed, right? So dragons should get +6, in order to match that, right? And if regular soldiers attack it with a mere +1, the difference of 5 on average makes sure that most of the time, one of the regular soldiers dies. And that’s just when the dragon doesn’t get to use it’s dragon breath.
That’s a pretty devastating power:
- dragon breath ☆ burns down an entire village; anybody who cannot run must die
I guess if I were to model the killing of Smaug by Bard in Laketown (Wikipedia), I’d say that the secret knowledge imparted by the thrush nullifies the dragon’s defenses so he must roll +0 and Bard gets to roll +3 for his job as archer, his specialisation with the bow, and his special black arrow.
The dragon still has ten hits, which would require a total amount of differences of twenty! How on earth is that going to work?
Maybe in this situation, we could simulate this as requiring one blow and the previous rolls leading up to it to be positioning rolls, entrapment, false trails, lures, deception. It’s not clear to me what sort of bonus you’d use to do that, though.
@paulczege offered some interesting ideas on Mastodon:
Give monsters a “recipe” of certain kinds of attacks it takes to kill them. An ettin might take a “suprise attack” (one rolled with Dex instead of Strength) plus a “heavy strike”, but maybe a couple of successful regular attacks is enough for players to keep the initiative until they get to it. A group of goblins might take a “mook flurry”. A dragon might take a sequence of successful “overstrike” attacks (where a player rolls better than the attack by the prior player).
I guess in the case of Bard vs. Smaug I could say that the ten hits might also be due to awesome armour and actually knowing the weak spot would nullify the armour... Perhaps the dragon only has four hits when discounting the armour? That would still require a difference of eight in the opposed 2d6 roll... but at least it’s possible to pull off.
Some sort of extra “killing blow” rules might still be required. I have to think about this some more.
We could return to the OD&D +1/+3 vs. somebody magic weapons I love so much.
If Bard is using a +1/+3 vs. dragons arrow, and we’re more liberal with granting Bard special abilities, then how about this:
- +1 for his job as archer
- +1 for his experience as captain of a company
- +1 for his sharp eyes
- +1 for his hatred of Smaug
- +3 for using a +1/+3 vs. dragons black arrow
That’s a +7 attack vs. a dragon’s absolute weak spot, where the dragon has to roll +0. A difference of 7 would be worth at least four damage plus special effects. If the dragon only has 4 hits without his dragon armour, then it could work...
But wow. So much special casing. I guess that explains why it’s a feat worthy of being told.
And that also tells me that epic fights will go up into the +7 bonuses to the rolls and that epic armour will add up to six hits, and that I can use OD&D magic armour and weapon bonuses as-is.
Tags: Just Halberds Old School Indie RPG